Abraham believed, and that was enough
Abe had faith before he got his Jewish credentials1 Okay now, what about our ancestor Abraham? What did he discover about faith? 2 If Abraham’s good relationship with God is because of the good things Abraham did in his life, he certainly has something to brag about. But it wouldn’t be about God.
3 What does the Bible say? “Abraham trusted God and God accepted him as a good and righteous soul.” 4 People who work for a payday don’t think of their salary as a gift. They earned their money. They have a right to it. 5 But I’m not talking about the person who works. I’m talking about the person who trusts in God who forgives sinful people. Faith is what distinguishes a person as a good and righteous soul.
6 King David talked about people who got honored as good and righteous souls. Yet he didn’t say a thing about any good stuff those people may have done to earn it.
“Happy. That’s the people whose sins are forgiven and buried deep in the dirt.
10 Tell me, how did Abraham get tagged as a good person? Did that happen before he was circumcised or after? I’ll give you the answer. Before. 11 He wasn’t good because he got circumcised. He got circumcised because he was good. Circumcision was a sign, a mark of God’s approval. So Abraham is the father of everyone who trusts God, even if they haven’t been circumcised. God includes them among the good and righteous.
12 Abraham is the father of circumcised people, too. I’m not talking about folks who merely went through the ritual of circumcision. I’m talking about circumcised Jews who trust God. When they do that, they’re doing what our ancestor Abraham did. Abraham trusted God first. Circumcision came later.
Abe’s descendants aren’t just the Jews13 Let me remind you of something. God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the world. God didn’t make that promise because Abraham obeyed the law. God made that promise because of the goodness of Abraham’s faith. 14 If we insist that Abraham’s descendants are only the people who follow Jewish law, then faith is worthless and God’s promise is nothing but empty words. 15 The law incites anger. But if there’s no law, nobody broke it.
16 God’s promise is based on our faith and his grace. That’s why God’s promise is available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only to those who obey the Jewish laws. It’s available to everyone who has faith, as Abraham did. He’s the father of us all.
17 The Bible says this about Abraham, “You’re going to be the father of many nations.” Abraham is the father of us all. He stands now in the presence of the God he believed, the God whose word calls lifelessness to life and death to life again.
18 Against all odds, Abraham believed the promise that he would become the father of many nations, just as God said. “That’s how many heirs you’ll have.” 19 Abraham had every reason not to have faith in a promise like that. At about 100 years old, he was more dead than alive. And the uterus of his wife Sarah had already been dead a long time. Yet Abraham’s faith was anything but weak. 20 Abraham believed God’s promise. His faith didn’t waver. In fact, it grew stronger. Abraham thanked God for what was about to happen. 21 Abraham was absolutely convinced that God could and would do what he said he was going to do.
Faith leaves a mark22 That’s why his faith marked him as a good and righteous man. 23 The phrase “God accepted him” wasn’t meant for Abraham alone. 24 It was meant for us, too. God will accept all of us who believe in the one who raised Jesus our leader from the dead. 25 Jesus was sent to die for the sins we committed. And he was raised from the dead so we could be forgiven and live on good terms with God.
Paul is paraphrasing Genesis 15:6.
Moses did not deliver the Jewish laws and then begin organizing the Jewish people into a nation until perhaps half a dozen centuries or more after Abraham.
The word for “anger” is orgē, similar to the English word “ogre.”
“Grace” sounds like a vague word that’s hard to define. In fact, it’s a specific word that can be hard to define: charis. When Bible writers use it to describe God’s expression of grace to people, the word comes in different shades: mercy, kindness, love. We have to look for context clues if we want to understand how the writer used the word. One interpretation of God’s grace is this: “Grace is God accepting us the way we are and exactly where we are in our lives, yet it’s also his unwillingness to leave us there.” That may cover all the shades of “grace.” We should probably add that Paul says we can’t earn the right to any of it (Romans 9:16). In the Casual English Bible, we typically substitute “kindness” for “grace,” because the word “kindness” is more easily grasped and is a key feature of grace. But in Paul’s letter to Romans, we go back to “grace” because this is Paul’s greatest surviving work and the most theological. Some scholars describe this letter as the first thorough work of Christian theology. If you can handle Romans, you can wrap your welcoming arms around God’s grace.
Abraham and Sarah had not yet had a child together. Abraham was about 100 years old (4:19), and Sarah was in her early 90s. Fair to say the odds were against them. But as the Genesis story is told, God was for them.
Paul makes what many would say is a compelling argument to support his idea that God accepts people because of their faith, not because they obey the Jewish laws. Paul draws his support from Abraham’s story. Read through the chapter. Which statement do you think helps Paul make his case best?
Even though Paul makes a strong case for including non-Jewish people into the family of God, most Jews rejected his argument. The church grew because non-Jewish people joined the movement. Most Jews stayed away. If Paul had presented his argument about Abraham in a synagogue, how do you think some tradition-minded Jews would have argued against him? What do you think they might have said?
LIFE APPLICATION. Christians today love the idea that we might get a big thumbs up from God simply because we have faith in him and in his kindness. But we like rules, too. Most church denominations have a nice thick manual of church protocol, rules of behavior, and punishment for offenders. Given what Paul has to say about Jewish rules, what do you think he would say today about church rules?
LIFE APPLICATION. Let’s say Paul is right when he says, “Faith is what distinguishes a person as a good and righteous soul” (4:5). How does that help us work together in a community of faith, such as a local church? If we aren’t operating by rules, how can we tell a person of faith from a Raiders fan? (Okay, even as a Kansas City sports fan, I know not all Raiders fans are sinners. But you get my drift.)
LIFE APPLICATION. React to Paul’s quote of some lyrics attributed to King David. How do you think Christians as well as non-Christians today would react to hearing this? “Happy. That’s the people whose sins are forgiven and buried deep in the dirt. Happy. That’s the person whose sin has been permanently deleted—never again admissible in God’s court” (Romans 4:7-8).
LIFE APPLICATION. Many Christians seem to be strong supporters of the nation of Israel, which declared itself a sovereign nation in 1948. Before that, the Jews had been a people without a nation since Roman times, when the Roman army moved into what is now Israel in the 100s BC. Romans leveled Jerusalem in AD 70, just a few years after Paul wrote this letter. Many Christians and Jews defend the right of the Jewish people to have their own homeland. They refer to God’s promise to Abraham: “You’re an immigrant in this land of Canaan. But I’m giving every bit of this land to you and your descendants. This will be a family-owned land forever. I’ll be God to your family” (Genesis 17:8). Now Paul comes along and says people of faith everywhere are the descendants of Abraham. “God’s promise is available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only to those who obey the Jewish laws. It’s available to everyone who has faith, as Abraham did. He’s the father of us all” (4:16). If we listened in on a discussion about whether the Jewish nation has a biblical right to exist, and to take the land of Palestinian people whose families have lived there for centuries, what are some of the arguments we might hear on either side of that question?